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Jet Life Jives

NOLA Producer-Emcee Nesby Phips on Touring with Curren$y, Coming Up Around Lil Wayne and Cash Money Records and the Blue Collar Side of Hip-Hop



When Curren$y’s Jet Life tour touched down at a sold-out Bourbon Street-themed club in Baltimore last month, there was plenty familiar besides the fledgling few Mardi Gras beads on the wall. 

 

You know that rule about not wearing the band’s T-shirt to their concert? It has apparently been burned off the books in Jet-land where the teenage fans not only dress like their heroes but rock the whole clothing line. 

 

As for the enterprise itself, maybe you’ve heard of Myspace rappers—but what about Internet rap empires?  With a Ferrari in the garage, a Twitter following approaching the population of his hometown, the ink drying on a Warner Brothers deal and maybe the first rap single with “pound-sign” in the chorus (accompanied by a straight-to-Youtube video showcasing said Ferrari), Curren$y is starting to look like online rap’s Tony Montana—err, its Master P?  But he’s dropped the gun talk, carrying in its place a nimble, THC-laden flow that puts him head and shoulders above his former label dad Master P, not to mention almost everybody on the radio today. And, like any good rap-trafficker on the come-up, Curren$y is cultivating a crew. Some, like asleep-at-the-wheel Corner Boy P, make you hope they’re setting aside money between chains. Others may yet break out, but so far can’t match Curren$y’s mesmerizing cleverness on the tired topics of weed, womanizing and buying stuff. 

 

Then there are Fiend and Nesby Phips, producer-emcees who have had spoons deep in New Orleans rap for years with little fanfare.

 

A barber by trade, Nesby Phips has been moonlighting as beat-maker for nearly a decade, working with local hopefuls like Mack Maine and Melaphyre.  He stepped into the limelight three years ago with production on Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y’s breakout projects, whose success prompted him to pick up the mic back up for a series of mixtapes that make up what they lack in continuity with fun eclecticism.  A multi-instrumentalist and serious renaissance man, Phips made it official last November when he hung up his clippers. The beats are coming in breezy and fresh as ever—you can tell he’s been in the dojo with Ski Beatz —with smart, tightly coiled rhymes that take occasional topical trips into Jay Elctronica conspiracy theorist territory. For a taste of the Phips touch, scope the Super 8 video he put together for the song “Chemtrails." Between touring, recording, scoring a movie and writing a children’s book(!), his hands are as full as ever.  

 

 

NoDef caught up with Phips backstage in Baltimore:

 

 

NOLA Defender [Young Roddy] was saying y’all have a studio on the bus.

 

Nesby Phips Yeah, but I keep mine in my backpack. 

 

ND Just your laptop?

 

NP A laptop and a mic.

 

ND And you’re sticking to the mixtape thing?

 

NP [Grinning] I actually never did a mixtape before. I did Phipstapes.  But, I did a few hard copies here and there. The last one I did through [bandcamp.com].

 

ND How’d you get up on the internet? 

 

NP I had a quick gravitation to it.  I looked up one blog, was digging it, and I wound up falling into a rabbit hole of blogs. Curren$y was the front-runner for me, and I followed suit.  And that’s the way we’ve been existing for the last two years.

 

ND And how’d you two get together?

 

NP We went to McMain together.

 

ND Oh, okay, didn’t Lil Wayne go there too?

 

NP All of us went there: me, Mack Maine, [Young Money manager] Cortez Bryant.

 

ND Mack Maine went to McMain?

 

NP Yup.

 

ND You were all in the same program?

 

NP We were all gifted students; we all knew each other. I was two years ahead of Wayne.

 

ND What neighborhood did you grow up in?

 

NP Hollygrove. Where I know Wayne and Maine from also.

 

ND Did you know Fiend growing up?

 

NP I didn’t know him personally, but his grandmother had a van service that I used to ride to school—Ms. Jones.  She used to sell candy out the van and everything.

 

ND So you grew up looking at Cash Money and No Limit as role models.

 

NP Yup. They were front-runners. They kind of morphed the industry, Master P alone.  And now Cash Money, because their reign was more consistent.  They’re like Motown. They’ve been in existence for 20 years. You’ve gotta respect that on a business tip, selling 100,000 copies independent.

 

ND And they basically did it out of their trunks.

 

NP Out of the trunk. It kept me with a blue-collar approach. I saw how it worked for the artists. That’s why I’m so self-sufficient, recording myself, making my own beats, cutting down the overhead. Sweat equity. That would make a good name for a tape—sweat equity.

 

ND I’ve been trying to figure it out.  Because for some reason No Limit totally tanked, no pun intended.

 

NP Because it was more of a gimmick.  And they diversified.  Cash Money was more tunnel vision. They put it all on the label. [Master] P had clothing lines, movies, fuckin’ cell phones, sports management, all types of shit.

 

ND He’s still doing all right, just not in the music.

 

NP Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, see, he’s really a businessman. Cash Money are music businessmen. That’s their expertise. You know, some places got a full menu, some places just sell chicken fingers.  [Cash Money] sells chicken fingers.  And they’re winning.  They’re like the Five Guy Burgers of rap.

 

ND That’s one thing that struck me about the mixtape thing, is that people are giving all this music for free. Where do you make it up?

 

NP You make it up for it all type of ways, shows being one of them.  It gives you value.  It’s a beginner’s swag for you, you know.  It’s just like any business will give out samples, only nowadays the samples are digital.  And you can’t just give ‘em a sample, you have to give ‘em a whole package, a whole brand. People process shit faster these days. The consumers don’t appreciate music like they used to because they’re fed so much of it. It’s microwave music. 

 

ND When I see people busting their asses, giving away music, it makes me wonder if music listeners start to expect to get it for free.

 

NP Well, what winds up happening is, you find your true fans that really love it and want to pay you for it.  That happened to me—I was giving away stuff for free, and I’d see people on the street and they’d give me five dollars.  And I’d be like, “What was this for?”  And they were like, “I downloaded your tape.”  And I’m like, “It’s for free.”  They tell me it’s worth five.  It happens.  That’s what’s good about the independent.  And the labels don’t understand that, because it’s a genuine connection between an artist and their fans.  I literally meet my fans, just like that, in an instant.  That access to the artists shifted power in the game.  Now the artists control it. 

 

ND So is the goal is to take it to that Cash Money level?

 

NP Well, the goal is to remain in control and always reap profit.  That’s what it’s about: how much intellectual property you control at the end of the day.  Beyond all the cool shit.

 

ND Is there a specific project you’re working toward right now?

 

NP Multiple, but I got a tape about to come out.  It’s untitled right now.

 

ND Do you have a date on it?

 

NP Nah. I don’t put dates on stuff like that.  It’s not natural.

 

ND Any highlights of the tour so far, anything unexpected?

 

NP I’m amazed at how easy it is. I didn’t know I was as popular as I am. And I see it.  That’s the most amazing thing. They know all my words.  And it keeps happening every night. Fifty cities. So if I’m not convinced after this—you know how when you’re a kid you’d have growth spurts and shoot up in like three months? That’s what this is. I’m gonna be real tall after this.

 

ND Do you have plans for when you get back to New Orleans?

 

NP Yeah, kickin’ it with my kids and putting together a band. 

 

ND Like New Orleans brass?

 

NP I got a whole different view on it.  But I’m going to take what I like from that and do what I do with it.  Just watch.  Just write it down and watch…  I’m high. [to Smoke DZA] You know what?  I drank that shit…

 

Smoke DZA …It’s Paul McCartney poppin’.

 

NP That’s a wild choice of words, but I feel you. 

 

Nah man, the fun thing about it is, what I do surprises me.  So I know it surprises the shit out of everybody else.  It’s something big to just look at what we’re doing right now.  My sound personally is just getting broader and broader.  I’m scoring [The King of New Orleans, a film directed by Chike Ozah, the New Orleans half of virtuoso video-makers Creative Control] right now, so I’m doing a lot of experimenting.

 

ND Do you mind telling me how old your kids are?

 

NP I got a nine-year old daughter and a six year-old son.  That’s one of the things I’ve gotta do when I get home: my daughter’s trying to do a fashion blog right now.  She’s real hands on.  My son, he just wants to own a pet store and play the drums.

 

ND Sounds like they picked up their dad’s hustle.

 

NP Yeah.

 

 

Tomorrow, part 2 of our conversations with Jet Life collaborators, featuring Fiend.

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